February 07, 2017
more funds for research, infrastructure and digital outreach
It is the season of
the Union budget. The focus of discussion within and outside
Parliament is about allocation, spending, taxation and reform.
Missing from the public discourse is a conversation about
Parliament’s budget. This year, the Lok Sabha and Rajya Sabha
have been allocated Rs 1,052 crore. It is a 3 per cent increase
over last year’s estimates and 0.049 per cent of our total
budget. A 2012 report of the Inter-Parliamentary Union puts this
number in perspective: In 2010, the US Congress had a budget of
$5.12 billion, followed by the Parliament of Japan at $1.71
billion and France at $1.17 billion. In the same year, the
average budget of 110 parliaments was 0.49 per cent of the
Our Parliament is the focal point of our democracy. It shoulders
the responsibility of enacting a robust legal framework and
holding the government accountable. The houses of Parliament are
also supposed to be at the forefront of thought leadership on
policy issues. To do its job effectively, Parliament needs
adequate resources. However, there has been almost no focused
Parliament’s financial needs. Public discussion has centred
around the salaries and allowances of MPs. And while deriding
the free air tickets and housing in Lutyens Delhi makes for
entertaining reading, it does not address the gap that exists in
Parliament’s intellectual and infrastructure requirements.
The Library and Reference, Research, Documentation and
Information Service (LARRDIS) is the research arm of Parliament.
Its job is to provide research and reference materials to MPs on
legislative and other issues. It has a sanctioned strength of
231 staffers. But as per numbers from August 2016, it discharges
its duties with a reduced number of 176. That’s about 8 per cent
of the strength of the Lok Sabha secretariat, which has about
2,300 staffers. Increased budgetary support to Parliament can be
used to increase LARRDIS’s staff strength, enable professional
development of its researchers and allow MPs to employ
professional research staff .
This is not a new idea. The Congressional Research Service
housed in the Library of the US Congress employs 600 people.
According to its website, “more than 400 of these employees are
policy analysts, attorneys and information professionals working
across a variety of disciplines”. In addition, the Congressional
Budget Office employs another 200 professionals. Many other
parliaments recognise the importance of providing MPs with
non-partisan research. These supplement MPs’ intellectual depth
by giving them funds to hire research teams.
Our Parliament is one of a handful which has a wealth of
information available on its website. More money will also allow
the deploying of digital infrastructure to facilitate and
encourage citizens’ engagement with the institution. For
example, debates are available in text form. Linking them to
recorded video proceedings available with the television
channels of both houses will draw in a younger generation.
Somnath Chatterjee, speaker of the 14th Lok Sabha, wrote in his
memoirs: “The greatness of Parliament lies not just in its
majestic building, but is derived from and sustained by the
quality of debates that take place inside it…”. Investing in
Parliament will deepen and sharpen its deliberations, resulting
in effective governance frameworks. After all, we shouldn’t
expect a great Parliament without providing the money for one.
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